US filmmakers use experience to bridge the cross-cultural divide, and to breakdown stereotypes, by offering a unique window into the lives of American Muslims, and a chance to win USD 50,000 in prizes.

The “One Nation, Many Voices” online film contest, which kicked off this month, asks filmmakers to create a short video that “reflects the American Muslim experience” and is open to any US citizen, regardless of race or religion. “We felt the best way to improve perspectives of American Muslims is by getting out more stories, good stories, and what better way is there than to ask Americans to tell good stories about their American Muslim neighbors,” One Nation’s Executive Vice President, Al-Husein Madhany, told KUNA in an interview.

He added that the goal of the film contest is to “hear more voice from the American Muslim community about what it is to be American and Muslim”. “No matter what our cultural and ethnic backgrounds are or how we choose to express our spirituality, as Americans we all have shared values, beliefs and responsibilities,” the organization said in an online statement. In one video, trying to dispel a common stereotype that Muslims in the US prefer only prefer Middle Eastern food, one filmmaker said, “Falafel is actually not my favorite type of food.

The Islamic message is bigger than just about us,” says another filmmaker. The contest, which lasts until September 26, 2008, is awarding USD 50,000 in prizes for five assignment categories-Public Service, American Muslim Life, Youth Story, American Muslim Women, and Two Faiths, One Film-through documentary, animation, drama, spoken word, or music video formats. Finalists in each category win USD 5,000 and a flip camera, and compete for a chance to win the USD 20,000 top prize for the most creative new video.

The contest organizers, One Nation for All, is a California-based non-profit organization, and comprises of multi-faith philanthropists, including academics, scholars, business leaders, and faith leaders, all concerned about “the way American Muslims are being perceived in the media,” said Madhany. One Nation works with co-sponsors LinkTV, a free satellite channel, and with Unity Productions Studio to arrange the second-annual online film contest. LinkTV will air the winning contest on its television satellite channel.

Madhany pointed out that a new category was introduced to this year, the “Two Faiths, One Film” category, which looks to “highlight good stories of American Muslims being good neighbors, and good Americans” and help dispel some of the negative stereotypes and misperceptions that have precipitated in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the war in Iraq. Two main misperceptions that exist in the US, according to Madhany, are that Muslims are not fully committed to American values and democracy in society, and do not care about the “future success of the United States,” which prompted One Nation to start the film contest.

“It’s those very perceptions we are trying to do away with through the film contest,” said Madhany. Last year’s top prize winning entry, out of over 100 submissions, was a music video titled “A Land Called Paradise” by independent filmmaker Lena Khan. It showed the different races, colors, shapes and sizes of American born, or American bred Muslims, and featured the thoughts and comments gathered from over 2,000 Muslims across the US. (MORE)


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